What started out of a two-bedroom apartment in Bengaluru in 2007 has, in 11 years, become India’s e-commerce market leader. Flipkart, founded by Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, is now a major subsidiary of Walmart, the US retail giant.
As India sees its biggest ever M&A deal in the startup ecosystem, we look at the journey of Flipkart and its founders Sachin and Binny and their conversations with YourStory over the last decade.
In 2010, Sachin and Binny spoke about the problem they were solving and why Flipkart was called Flipkart. They shared with YourStory:
“An attractive neutral name is what we looked for. Good domain names were hard to get. We were looking at names that did not just speak of books alone, but one that could suit any category of products that we may add in future. Also, we wanted to have a catchy name with high recall potential. Flipkart could, in simple terms, mean ‘Flipping things into your Kart’.”
In the year 2017, Flipkart completed a decade, and Sachin and Binny shared what they thought were their big milestones,
“The past decade has been absolutely fantastic, and the journey truly enriching and humbling. As we celebrate our tenth anniversary this year, I look back and think that for a young, inexperienced company like Flipkart, it was remarkable that we had the audacity to attempt to build an entire ecosystem from scratch. India’s unique market and traditional customer psyche meant global business models couldn’t work here. So, whether it was launching Cash on Delivery on scale – which gave Indian customers the confidence to shop online – programmes like In-a-Day-Guarantee, No-Cost EMI, and a customer-friendly returns policy, Flipkart’s innovations slowly transformed the way India shops.”
The duo also learnt to say no, which according to them was one of the biggest reasons for their success. Sachin said in 2016,
“We were clear on whom we wanted to work with; so we set clear boundaries for ourselves. As a startup, it was hard to take that call…Of course, Flipkart started in 2007-2008, when startups were not that ‘cool’. We could have easily said yes to the various people who were coming to us for various reasons. But we kept our resolve and it paid off.”
Sachin also said, “Binny and I were very clear from the beginning that we don’t know much except writing code for a large-scale distributor system. We knew we wanted people to come and help us, so we gave a lot of autonomy from day one. In most cases, people delivered ten times for the company. It was the environment we created to nurture talent. Every employee has shaped the business because we gave the freedom to go ahead and change it.”
On the question of failure and where Flipkart had failed, both Sachin and Binny responded, “The best answer to this is a quote from Thomas Edison: ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ As a young company, there were several things we did in the past decade that in hindsight may seem a little hasty. But, in reality, they were all critical components of our evolution because we learnt from those experiences and emerged stronger. So, there are no long-term failures at Flipkart. There are only learnings that we pick up from every project or work-stream and apply elsewhere.”
In 2016, Sachin shared how to hit gold with an idea given that there is never a dearth of ideas.
“What I look for is around the biggest problem areas. For example, today, India is at a stage where technology transformation has not happened, where optimum harnessing of technology has not happened, but it is only a matter of time. So, the entrepreneur must go after solving big challenges of our time with a very high-quality understanding of their space.”
It is no secret that the road to entrepreneurship is a lonely one. Sachin has echoed the same sentiment in the past. “Nobody can relate to what a founder goes through in the ups and downs of a business. But that’s how it should be. It pushes you beyond your boundaries and helps you grow,” he said.
“Whatever you do in your personal life will have a huge impact on your business. There is no line in between. You can never switch off,” according to Sachin.
From his experience, the other golden piece of information that Sachin shared was that “You have to constantly pull yourselves out of the minute details, and see whether you are heading in the right direction. If not, change that direction; learn from your mistakes, and move forward.”
In 2010, the duo advised entrepreneurs, “Don’t start out alone, it helps to have a co-founder when things are not going your way. Perseverance and hard work are very important. The core of any business is to earn money. You have not done your job well until you find a stranger who is willing to open his/her wallet to give you money for the services/products that you are offering. The next step after that is to focus on scaling it up well.”
“Keeping your ears and eyes on the ground is very important. When they said we were great, we had to make sure that it didn’t go to our heads. Not becoming arrogant was important for us,” Sachin had said in a chat.
After Flipkart completed a decade, Sachin and Binny shared why it will be remembered, and today as the Indian ecommerce giant was taken over by Walmart, the thought shared by the duo a year and a half ago still resonates,
“...there were ups and downs, but I think history will remember us for two things. To consumers, Flipkart will be remembered as the company that created Indian ecommerce, that brought to the average Indian’s doorstep a wide range of affordable, quality products. The other is Flipkart’s contribution in creating the startup ecosystem in India. Hundreds of startups focused on solving for India have been inspired by Flipkart to create products that improve people’s lives. Flipkart has instilled confidence in budding entrepreneurs that world-class tech-product companies can be built in India as well. These, I think, are our greatest achievements.”